Chrysler Group sales increased 23 percent in April to 95,703 units -- the company's best April since 2008. Chrysler said its retail sales were up 37 percent in April.
Moreover, Chrysler's April increase bested the industry's 18 percent gain.
Despite the good news, Chrysler is falling shy of its own ambitious goals, in part because it is having trouble filling its production pipeline. At February's National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, Chrysler officials told dealers they were targeting a 45 percent increase for 2011.
Year to date, Chrysler Group has sold 404,175 units, 23 percent better than a year ago.
The company has rolled out 16 new or heavily revamped products this year. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, speaking to analysts on Monday to announce Chrysler's first-quarter earnings, said the company is still working to get more of certain key models to dealerships.
"These product launches were hitting the market as we come out of Q1," he said. "We need to fill the pipeline to sell them. There are less than two Chrysler 200s per dealer. It's inadequate. We need to get product on the ground."
Some dealers are just getting their first 2012 Chrysler 300 sedans. As a result of the slow rollout, Chrysler brand sales fell in April, down 9 percent from April 2010. Shortages notwithstanding, Chrysler brand sold 8,274 200 sedans in April, more than double the number of Sebrings sold in April 2010. The 200 is a revamped version of the Sebring, a name the company retired.
David Kelleher, vice president of the Chrysler National Dealer Council, said the mood was upbeat among dealers on a national sales call today, even though the company lags its sales target of 45 percent.
"The company set a very aggressive goal. That goal has taken some shots because of market conditions. Had Japan not happened and had gas not gone to $4 a gallon," Chrysler might be right on target, he said.
"You know what's important is our customers like our cars. This isn't some sort of carnival act. We're selling cars with little or no incentive money. We're selling them because people want to buy them."
Chrysler continued to shrink its incentive spending. In April, the company spent an average of $3,069 per unit, down 16.2 percent from April 2010, according to TrueCar.com.
Among the brands, Jeep continues to lead Chrysler Group sales increases, up 65 percent from April 2010. In April, the Grand Cherokee was second only to the Ram full-sized pickup overall in the Chrysler Group lineup.
At 9,802 units, sales of the Grand Cherokee nearly tripled the total in April of last year. Sales of the 2011 Compass compact SUV, which received a new interior and cosmetic changes to make it look more like the flagship Grand Cherokee, also almost tripled in April to 4,050 units.
Dodge brand sales rose 14 percent, driven by a 26 percent increase in sales of the 2011 Avenger mid-sized sedan, which received major improvements including a new interior, new V-6 engine and retuned suspension.
Ram truck brand sales increased 30 percent.
Rebecca Lindland, analyst for IHS Global Insight, says that with gasoline topping $4 a gallon in many places, Chrysler still has an image problem because of its mix, which is tilted toward pickups, SUVs and minivans.
"They still have perception issues among American consumers. People don't think of their brands when they think of fuel-efficient vehicles. In my mind that's their biggest issue."
Fiat brand is designed to help Chrysler's fuel economy. Fiat sold 882 Fiat 500 subcompacts in April, the second month that Chrysler has been reporting Fiat sales. The 500 with a manual transmission is rated at 38 mpg on the highway, the highest fuel-economy rating in Chrysler's fleet. A convertible version of the 500 arrives soon.
The good sales news came a day after Chrysler Group reported its first quarterly net income ($116 million) since emerging from bankruptcy in June 2009.